Ada’s “Last Tango” in Dance, Song and Film

Don Barton Johnson

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Abstract :
Van’s brief stage career as a maniambulist concludes with a London performance in which he dances a tango with a female partner from the Crimea. The unnamed song to which they dance, mostly widely known as “The Last Tango”; is one that was very popular in Europe in the period before and after WWI. The Russian version, “Poslednee Tango,”; supplied the plot for a 1918 Russian film adaptation starring Vera Xolodnaya whose work was well known to both VN and his “Tamara”; from their furtive afternoon trysts in wintry Saint-Petersburg cinemas. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Nabokov heard the song in his Crimean stay (if not before), and likely saw the film. Nor was this VN’s only filmic experience in the Crimea. In Drugie berega, he describes a bizarre encounter with the leading movie star of the day—Ivan Mozzhukhin—in what is described as a rehearsal scene for a movie loosely based on Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad, later released under the title Der Weiss Teufel. The paper examines the role of these musical and cinematic elements as they are interwoven into Ada and Speak Memory. The talk is accompanied by a recording of “The Last Tango”; and fragments of the eponymous film, as well as the Mozzhukin feature.
Published : 2008-03-20


Don Barton Johnson, « Ada’s “Last Tango” in Dance, Song and Film », Cycnos, 2008-03-20. URL :